A Washington Post report on the “fury at Murdoch” reveals a difference between British and American politics that challenges conventional wisdom on the role of money in elections.
In Britain, money plays a smaller role in politics than it does in the United States, and politicians have few ways to communicate effectively with the public outside the media filter. Television advertising plays no significant role in campaigns; for the most part, it is not allowed.
An American politician who feels aggrieved by the media can buy television spots to answer them. His British counterparts have no such option. Elected officials must depend on the good graces of newspapers for favorable coverage.
This casts a very different light on the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Far from representing what President Obama called “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans,” the bitterly contested 5-4 ruling actually represented a victory for the political system against the undue influence of one particular special interest — the major media corporations, which after all are businesses just like “big oil,” “Wall Street,” and other “powerful interests.”
As dismaying as it is to see politicians grubbing for money wherever they can find it, would it really be better if American politicians were as beholden to newspapers as they are in Britain?
Who would actually benefit if less money were spent on campaigns in America? “The People”? Or large media companies that would then enjoy the kind of monopoly on political coverage that the British press has had?